There’s a clear shift in customer preferences towards health and wellness. In fact, it’s more than a trend and is becoming the new standard in lifestyle choices. From cleaning products and baby food to candles and pantry staples, putting health first—sometimes even above budget—has become the norm as shoppers and diners are eager to find the absolute best items for their overall well-being.
According to Mintel consumer insights, "in 2022 and beyond, consumers will look to protect their health for the longer term through diet and nutrition."
For an example of this, look no further than popular retail displays and restaurant menus, and you’ll see the growing number of offerings in the "natural" categories. Today's discriminating shopper knows the difference between natural and greenwashed products and perceives that difference as important to their general wellness as they look to find more ways to use food as preventative medicine to fuel their healthy lifestyle.
Luckily for us, Americans still buy chicken more than any other meat. Unfortunately, the poultry section in many stores has become a confusing jumble of labels that may not mean what consumers think they mean, or may not mean anything at all. The choices are head-spinning, but there are three which seem to draw the most attention and confusion: Natural, Organic, and Non-labeled. Often for operators, these labels can pose some frustration as well - especially when one label (yep, we’re talking about you Organic) tends to be almost double in cost, driving menu prices higher and cutting into already thin profit margins.
Let’s break down the three most popular categories of chicken you can purchase and talk about the benefits of each one.
Chicken with no certifications or fancy labels is just that—chicken. Since federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry and pork, you can rest assured that this product can still be featured on your menu as "no hormones added". This chicken is a great value product to keep prices low and diners happy.
A natural label indicates that the birds were minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients such as added dyes or preservatives. An example of this would be Wayne Farms chicken products—raised on family farms right here in America, antibiotic free and fed a vegetarian/grain diet. This chicken label is an excellent choice for operators looking to appeal to the ever-growing group of health conscious consumers looking for the reassurance that a "natural" label brings to the table.
In order to be labeled "USDA Organic," the chicken diet cannot include any GMOs or pesticides. The chickens must be provided access to the outdoors and be fed 100 percent certified organic feed. It also means that antibiotics cannot be used except when medically necessary. While this label does appeal to some markets, products can run nearly double the price of their "natural" counterparts.
There are other sub-categories but these really reflect differences in farm operations and grow-out practices rather than measurable differences in meat quality, texture or flavor. While product descriptions like free-range and cage-free are helpful to marketers in their effort to appeal to specific consumer preferences, these nuanced products are a fraction of the mainstream marketplace. Packaging claims notwithstanding, it’s all about the protein at the end of the day—and trendwatchers say consumers will continue to lean into natural products with minimal ingredients over products touting weight loss or environmentally-friendly/sustainable packaging.